I finally saw the new Jane Eyre movie last night and while I wasn’t quite swept away by it (the story is just a bit too sad and while everyone seems to like the changed around beginning, where Jane is running away from Thornfield first and then remembers her earlier life later, I found having the story folded in on itself like that didn’t allow the emotion of the narrative to develop as strongly) but it still is quite good. I didn’t think I would say it, but most of the actors are better in this version than in the 2006 Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson BBC miniseries. (Insert shock.)
Mia Wasikowska is the perfect ‘poor, plain and little’ Jane Eyre and she has a stillness, dignity and grace to her that is quite nice to watch. The girl who plays young Jane Eyre (Amelia Clarkson) also has these qualities too and is far better than Georgie Henley from the miniseries (she’s also played Lucy in the Narnia movies and is better there) in the role. Her scene with Aunt Reed (Sally Hawkins is quite chilling in this role, especially in contrast with her portrayal of Anne Elliott in Persuasion!), where she tells her that she’s treating Jane badly is so well done — contrary to the book and previous versions where she just gets mad at her, this young Jane actually seems to plead with her aunt for love, for compassion. She’s so delicate, her scene with John Reed and then in the red room, is very well done and heartrending. I wish the movie had begun with her and gone forward from there, it’s quite dramatic enough and would have built better emotionally by going straight forward instead of confusing viewers with so much back and forth, I think.
I also thought Judi Dench was good as Mrs. Fairfax — at first it seems, oh Judi again, just here to prop up yet another period drama (I didn’t really like her portrayal of Lady Catherine in Pride & Prejudice, it didn’t seem to add anything special), but near the end she tells Jane she would have cared for her and that was the only time I cried in the whole movie. Of course it’s not in the book, but it should have been! It shows her as this kind motherly figure that Jane’s never had. (And maybe I was partly touched because she reminded me a little of her role as Miss Matty in Cranford and I just adore Miss Matty. These simple sweet older women that people take for granted, but oh how I wish I had a grannie like that!) I also liked the young actress playing Adele — at first I thought they’d gotten the same girl who played the young Jane Eyre! Which would have added a whole other interesting layer, as to why Jane is so kind to Adele, although it is in the book that she pities her because of her own childhood. She’s also not as obnoxious as the miniseries Adele.
And finally Michael Fassbender as Rochester. I was a fan of Toby Stephens before he was in the miniseries, back when no one thought he’d make a good Rochester, so I did quite enjoy him in the role, but Michael Fassbender just seemed gentler and less arrogant than Toby’s Rochester. I know book Rochester is quite arrogant etc, but that is part of my problem with him! So I do like Fassbender in the role quite a lot too. I thought his sideburns looked unattractive in the pictures and that he was too skinny for the part (Rochester is described as rather deep chested or something like that, isn’t he?), but somehow it all worked. It was his eyes and sincerity that brought it all together and his final appearance as the ruined Rochester was quite tragic. I would definitely have liked more scenes with Jane and Rochester, the story seemed so taken up with checking off all the other plot boxes that there wasn’t nearly enough of them, especially for a story that’s supposed to be one of the great romances. Again, if there wasn’t so much time with the Rivers family in the movie there could have been more Rochester! (Although I’m rather glad there was less of the humiliating Blanche Ingram and basically no Grace Poole too, I’m always irritated with why she’s in the story, misleading Jane.)
I liked the atmosphere built in the movie, showing through the barren and lonely landscape how few options there are for Jane, trapped in these large country houses and schools out in the middle of nowhere. And I loved her speech where she says she longs to be a man to go further and see beyond the horizon of the hills that is all they can see from the windows of Thornfield. It shows a spirit in her that goes beyond the simple romance of the story and explains why she’s happy being a simple schoolteacher with the Rivers, having her own independence.
I saw the movie with my husband (he was actually more concerned with me getting to see it in the theatre than I was, since I haven’t been feeling in the mood for a depressing Victorian story lately, but this was the last week for seeing it in the closest movie theatre to us, about an hour away, so it ended up being good to go) and we had a great discussion about it in the car on the way home. He thinks we’re a bit like Jane and Rochester — I’m quiet and compassionate and was abused as a child, while he often feels quite cynical about life due to his own difficult past — aww. We also had an instant connection of understanding due to the things we’ve both been through, just like the two of them do. So I’m quite glad I got to see it with him (I’d wanted to see it with my sister since we both like the book, but it just didn’t work out.), even though when I got home, I looked at the book, found it too sad and intense and went back to the much happier Anne of Green Gables (both Anne and Jane are orphans with sad pasts though), which I’m loving immensely. I haven’t reread it in decades!